Mumbai Hoarding Collapse: Did BMC’s May 2 Letter to Railways Foretell Tragedy? Blame Game Continues

mumbai hoarding collapse: did bmc’s may 2 letter to railways foretell tragedy? blame game continues

Rescuers look for victims under a billboard that collapsed following heavy rain and thundershowers in Mumbai. (AP)

The hoarding collapse at Ghatkopar due to a sudden dust-storm in Mumbai, which led to 14 deaths, has whipped up yet another storm, with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Railways locking horns over land ownership and granting permissions for the illegal structure.

A day after the tragedy, the BMC’s disaster-management department issued a notice to the owners of the structure and GRP, asking that other illegal hoardings — adjoining the one which collapsed — be dismantled in the next 10 days. The civic body also took to their X handle to inform citizens that they had started the task of removing advertisements from the hoarding.

BMC’s Version

According to the civic body, the land on which the accident took place belongs to the railway police.

Though Assistant Commissioner of the ward Gajanan Bellale did not respond to texts and calls by News18, he had claimed on Monday that a notice was issued to the people concerned, including Government Railway Police (GRP) and the company managing the hoarding.

According to BMC sources, on December 7, 2021, the then GRP commissioner gave permission to set up the illegal hoardings after poisoning and cutting seven to eight trees. The sources added that BMC had filed the first FIR in the matter in May 2023.

Sources said the BMC conducted repeated follow-ups with the Pant Nagar police station where the FIR was registered over the poisoning of trees, but to no avail.

However, the question that still persists is why the Assistant Commissioner let the illegal hoarding remain when the area fell under his jurisdiction.

There are three BMC departments that are concerned with such hoardings or advertisements across the city:

Licence Department: This arm is concerned with advertisements that are put up on metal structures.

Building & Factories Department: This department issues permits for a structure after consulting other departments like fire brigade, engineering, and estate among others. All structures require permit from this department before starting any activities.

Garden Department: Given the BMC’s claims about trees being poisoned to set up the structure, it is the garden department that is responsible for protecting the city’s flora.

GRP’s Flip-Flops

After BMC passed the buck to the GRP, the Central Railways initially denied ownership of the land. “This hoarding is not on Railway land and it is not in anyway related to Indian Railways (sic),” it said in a post on X.

However, GRP later issued a statement, admitting ownership of the land, and said the billboard collapsed before it could take action against the advertising agency over a complaint that it had damaged trees to erect it.

The GRP said the BMC had issued a letter against the advertising company — M/s Ego Media Private Limited — on May 2 for damaging trees on the roadside to install the hoardings. GRP initiated proceedings against the company but tragedy struck before appropriate action could be taken.

GRP Commissioner Ravindra Shisve did not respond to message or calls by News18.

Railway Police said the permission to erect hoardings was given to M/s Ego Media Private Limited for a period of 10 years in December 2021 with the approval of the then GRP Commissioner Qaiser Khalid. Khalid, too, did not respond to texts by News18.

The petrol pump of the Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) — on which the hoarding fell, trapping people — was being operated by the Government Railway Police Commissioner’s Welfare Fund Organisation with the prior permission of the Director General of Police (GRP) since December 10, 2021.

Ego Media Private Limited in the Dock

Mumbai Police has registered an FIR in the case at Pant Nagar under sections 304 (culpable homicide), 338 and 337 (endangering human life) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code against Bhavesh Bhinde, the owner of EGO media, and others. However, no arrests have been made so far.

According to BJP leader Kirit Somaiya, Bhinde fled with his family on Monday after the incident and his phone is switched off.

Given that he is the owner of the agency that set up the metal structure, Bhinde is directly responsible for the condition of the hoarding which was weak and collapsed due to high winds.

Bhinde has 21 non-cognizable complaints against him pertaining to putting up banners without permission. These are under section 328 (putting hoarding without permission) and 471 (fines) of MMC act. An FIR under section 376 (punishment of rape) was filed against him earlier this year at Mulund police station by his partner in the firm, who had alleged that he had raped her. Bhinde was granted anticipatory bail in the case from a Mulund court after his legal team argued that the two were in a relationship and the case against him was false.

Bhinde had also contested the state assembly elections in 2019.

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